Dying With Dignity Canada is concerned about the way St. Boniface Hospital’s board of directors recently decided on a medically assisted dying policy.

As a faith-based institution, St. Boniface Hospital had a policy not to provide medical assistance in dying, known as MAID, on site.

This spring that policy flipped twice, once allowing it, then returning back to the old policy.

“They basically stacked the board in favour of what the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba wanted,” said Dying With Dignity Canada CEO Shanaaz Gokool. “It is just incredibly troubling.”

The Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba owns St. Boniface Hospital’s facilities and its physical assets while the hospital manages the programs. The CHCM approves nominees to both the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation board and the hospital board.

On May 29, the hospital’s board of directors narrowly approved allowing medically-assisted deaths under “rare circumstances.”

Then, the Catholic Health Corporation asked the board to reconsider the policy but not before it appointed 10 new members to the board.

On June 12, the decision was overturned.

It means patient assessments can happen on site but not assisted deaths.

Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba CEO Daniel Lussier told CTV Winnipeg when the amendment was made the board exercised its ability to appoint directors to review the decision.

“Our position’s pretty clear, we won’t deliberately take a life,” said Lussier in a phone interview. “There are agreements in place with the region and the province, there are faith-based agreements.”

“This issue is something that’s important for all faith-based organizations in Manitoba and there’s agreements that clearly state that the province and the region will respect our ability to have our guiding principles and values guide our decisions and when there are some procedures or services that bump into that, then we can opt out.”

A May 2017 staff memo from the outgoing president of the St. Boniface Hospital Medical Staff obtained by Dying With Dignity Canada and shared with CTV Winnipeg highlights concerns about assessments for assisted deaths.

“Since the legalization of MAID, we at SBGH have witnessed patients experiencing harm, including uncomfortable death, as a direct result of an interim policy that required transfer out of St. Boniface Hospital for the purpose of the MAID assessment,” the memo stated.

St. Boniface Hospital president and CEO Bruce Roe confirmed a patient died “many hours” after being transferred from St. Boniface Hospital to another facility to be assessed by the WRHA's MAID team. Roe said that happened prior to the decision to allow assessments to happen at St. Boniface Hospital.

“Obviously patients that are considering MAID are ill, are very ill and can deteriorate at any time and that could happen whether they were transferred or not so we try to prepare for these transfers and try to make them again timed as appropriately as possible."

“We work with the receiving facility, we work with the MAID team to try to minimize the symptoms and minimize the impact of these transfers if they indeed have to have them.”

Roe said since the new legislation allowing medically-assisted deaths was passed, around 50 patients at St. Boniface Hospital have expressed interest in it.

Arthur Schafer, founding director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said publicly-funded institutions like St. Boniface Hospital should provide MAID because patients and staff come from all religious backgrounds.

“The idea that dying patients will be forced to leave, what at the end of their life may temporarily be their home in order to receive a medical service, is just unacceptable,” said Schafer. “I think it’s ethically outrageous.”

“Medical ethics says the life and health of the patient comes first, that the well-being of patients trumps other considerations.”